I finally got to check off one of my Oregon adventures – staying at a fire lookout cabin at 5-Mile Butte. The National Forest Service operates and rents out fire lookouts throughout Oregon. For $50 a night, you can reserve a cabin stay in a remote area of the great Oregon wilderness. Be warned though – it’s competitive to book and you should be prepared to wake up early to reserve a weekend night some 3-months into the future. I booked this weekend trip on May 31st, for November 30th-December 2nd. I practically forgot about the trip until this month.
As the weekend approached, I tried to get specific pieces of information regarding the lookout and was struggling to find a thorough review. So I hope that those who find this blog might get some of their questions answered.
Many of the online resources I found said the cabin was further from Dufur than it actually was. The Barlow Ranger District is in Dufur and is a great stop to get the latest information on the cabin and road conditions. If you need a last minute food-stop, the Kramer Store in Dufur is quite cute and well stocked. From Dufur, travel west on Valley Road for ~10 miles to the junction of Forest Service Roads 44 & 4430. To the left is Billy Bob Sno-Park. To the right is FS Road 4430-120, which leads to the cabin.
Snow falls as early as October and the roads can be slick well before road closures happen. From Dec 15 – Mar 15, FS Road 44/4430 to Hwy 35 is closed and most people hike the 3 miles into the cabin. The spur road leading up to the cabin is gravel and is not plowed, signed or patrolled. It is also marked with orange and blue diamond shaped blazers. If you prefer to hike in as we did, you park at Billy Bob’s Sno Park, approx 3 miles from the cabin. You need a Forest Service parking pass ($5 / day). Billy Bob’s is minimal – a huge parking lot with a warming shed and outhouse. No potable water. The hike in is relatively easy.
There’s a nice wood stove that will heat the place up nicely and a plenty of wood to use in the woodshed. It’s common curtesy to fill up the wood stock in the cabin before you leave. A sled and a pulley-basket make it easy to haul the wood up (gloves are nice for pulling the rope). There’s a propane stove, but as of our stay, seemed to have a bit of a leak, so we turned off the gaskets between uses. There are 3 pots, plates, mugs and a skillet. No bowls. Various utensils and a can opener are there for use as well (and now a mini french press compliments of Jacob). There is a sink for disposing liquids, a double bed and a center cabinet filled with odds and ends. No real books to speak of, and the game selection was sparse. A few puzzles, but the pieces were everywhere. The outhouse is located a few paces from the cabin and if you’re lucky, someone left some toilet paper behind – but be sure to bring your own because it’s not a guarantee. There is a solar light that doesn’t really work, so even though the Forest Service advices against candles, there are tea lights to help illuminate the cabin. Helpful hint: take your headlamp and wrap it around an empty jug of water – it illuminates quite well.
We greatly underestimated the amount of water we needed. We brought in about 5 litres, but could have used double the amount. With the wood stove going, the air gets very dry. Coffee / tea and water for bowling noodles left us with minimal water to drink and wash dishes with. We actually walked 2.5 miles down to 8-Mile Creek to rill up some bottles for washing dishes with. We *did* bring a bag of wine (approx 4 bottles) that latest us the first night. Next time we’ll bring the hard stuff and take up less space.
There are 41 steps up to the cabin. As much as I wanted to bring my 70 pound golden retriever, I was worried about the stairs. As it turns out, it was better I left him at home. The last set of stairs are fairly steep and even if a dog makes it up, coming down is daunting. Otherwise, the railings around the cabin are secure.
The Good Stuff:
With wrap around windows, you get great views night and day. If you’re lucky enough for the clouds to part, the sun rising over the hills is simply stunning. Be sure to head outside to star gaze as with no lights anywhere to be seen, you are in for a treat. We brought a potable music player and it was really nice to have as background ambiance. The hike in wasn’t bad and I think it’s the best way to fully experience the remoteness of the cabin.
Call the Barlow Ranger District 4-days in advance for the padlock code (541-467-2291)
Bring plenty of water!
Dogs not advised unless you’re willing to carry them down those steep stairs.
If you’re going to bring some beverages, go for what takes up the least amount of space.
Bring games or a book – there’s limited stock at the cabin
Dishes are limited and depending on the last resident, can be on the dirtier side. Just a warning.
A roll of TP is highly required.
All trash much come out so pack accordingly.